Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

The Russian Civil War 1918-1921: An Operational Strategic Sketch of the Red Army's Combat Operations

Author M.N. Tukhachevskii

by A.S. Bubnov, S.S. Kamenev, M.N. Tukhachevskii, and R.P Eideman, Editors
Translated by Richard W. Harrison, PhD,  

Casemate Academic, 2020
Michael P. Kihntopf, Reviewer

This work is the last of three volumes about the Russian Civil War, which were published from 1928–1930. The first volumes, The Red Army's Combat Life and The Red Army's Military Art, according to Dr. Harrison, a former professor of Military History at the U.S. Military Academy, may be of interest to only a small group of military historians. This work, however, is an excellent source for both tactical and strategic operations during the Civil War.

There are very few books about the Russian Civil War which don't have a taint about them. Counterrevolutionary or Whites survivors, such as Anton Denikin and Piotr Wrangel, both prominent leaders, have a tendency to blame their failures on everyone else, whereas, Red Army survivors such as Semyon Budyonny, leader of the Red Cavalry Army, conveniently overlook their mistakes and lionize their victories usually brought about by guile and superior political orientation. Then there are later accounts which bear the stamp of Josef Stalin that clearly show that without Stalin all would have been lost. (Stalin's name appeared only three times in this book and then only as a political organizer.)

This work is very detailed in laying out all the elements of the conflict without blaming anyone for defeats or entering into heroics, although there are occasions where the proletariat as a whole receives praise for staying the course through extremely hard times. A Civil War researcher will find a wealth of knowledge in these pages. Besides detailed information, such as unit strengths and command and control details, about Red Army units fighting at, say, Orel or in Crimea, the pages also lay out the opposing White forces just as accurately down to divisional level. For every incident, chasing Kornilov or dealing with Admiral Kolchak, the reader has a 360-degree view.

There are numerous maps which are detailed but, at times, a little hard to decipher. Cross references help in understanding them. Of great interest were how the Red Army adapted to their foes in forming new units, reorganizing front commands, and dealing with logistics. It was surprising to find that the editors cited the Anarchist role in defeating Denikin and Wrangel—although they didn't stray from Party thought that said the Anarchists were brigands and at times collaborated with the Whites, nor did they include anything about their eventual elimination.

I highly recommend the book to the few of us who have a deep interest in this part of the Great War. I also recommend it to the researcher who wonders why the White forces were so handily defeated by a less than adequately led and equipped Red Army. A spoiler: the Red strength was in a unity of command and political goals whereas the Whites could never organize themselves. Incidentally, three of the editors, Bubnov, Tukhachevskii, and Eideman, were executed by Stalin in the 1930s purges while Kamenev managed to die naturally before the purges got under way.

Michael P. Kihntopf

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